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Leigh Rooney, RN

Leigh Rooney has always wanted to care for patients, but it was while she was in nursing school that she discovered an interest in oncology. Learning about palliative and hospice care in school, she knew she wanted to be in a position to provide comfort to patients as they neared the end of their lives.

Upon graduation, Leigh joined Smilow Cancer Hospital as a nurse on the 12th floor, the inpatient medical oncology unit. Leigh spends her shift as a floor nurse, caring for 3-4 patients throughout the day, or she serves as the charge resource nurse, attending bed meetings, morning rounds with doctors, and supporting the floor nurses however she can. Due to the critical nature of patients who are admitted to the 12th floor, many are receiving long-term care. Over time, the nurses get to know each patient and their families, providing them with emotional support in addition to daily care, and connecting them with other interdisciplinary teams such as palliative care and social work.

When patients do pass away, the nurses also need opportunities to decompress and receive emotional support. Seeing and experiencing this on her own, Leigh worked with her manager to institute "Code Lavender" on the 12th floor. When a death on the floor occurs, a Code Lavender is activated and the name of the nurse, PCA, and patient are given, signaling to all to check in on and provide support to the care team who just lost their patient. This support program has been so well-received on 12, that Leigh is presenting the program to other floors, and is also formally presenting the program at the Oncology Nursing Society Congress in April.

"In just my two and half years at Smilow, I have learned a lot - a lot more than I ever expected in such a short period of time," commented Leigh. "Working on NP12 is very challenging and the patients are very sick, so it takes an emotional toll on your well-being. But, I have grown and learned a lot about life and nursing, and I am grateful to have had a small impact on the lives of our patients here."

Tracy Carafeno, MS, BSN, CNML, Director of Patient Services for Smilow's Inpatient Units, says of Leigh, "She is everything an oncology nurse should be: compassionate, caring, knowledgeable and a strong patient advocate. Leigh ensures the patients and families get the absolute best care and outcomes, and also works to change systems and processes to make the unit a better place to work for her peers."